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New Racial Incident Hits Texas Town, Site of Truck-Dragging Murder

By Don Terry on June 5, 2013 - 4:49 pm, Posted in Anti-Black
Jasper Police Brutality

After watching a surveillance video of two white male police officers slam a black woman’s head into a countertop and yank her to the floor by her hair in the town lockup, the Jasper, Texas, City Council voted unanimously on Monday to fire the men, less than a month after the brief but violent encounter on a Sunday morning in May.

The incident has awakened the East Texas town’s ghosts.

The officers were fired four days before the 15th anniversary this Friday of one of the most horrific racially motivated murders in recent U.S. history – the truck-dragging slaying of Jasper resident James Byrd Jr., a 49-year-old black man.

On the night of June 7, 1998, three white men chained Byrd to their pickup by his ankles and dragged him three miles along a remote country road to his death, decapitating him and scattering pieces of his body in over 75 locations. The men, two of whom were known white supremacists, were convicted in the murder and, in 2011, one of them was executed. Another remains on death row, pending continuing appeals, and the third is serving a life term.

Without the legacy of that killing, which drew the attention of much of the world, it seems unlikely that this recent clash of black and white in a small East Texas town would have received nearly as much attention.

Resisting arrest charges against the woman, Keyarika Diggles, 25, have been dropped and the City Council has asked the district attorney to explore criminal charges against the fired officers – Ricky Grissom and Ryan Cunningham.

“People hear Jasper, Texas, and they think James Byrd,” Christine Stetson, one of the lawyers representing Diggles, told Hatewatch. “I think it’s impossible to have behavior like this on the part of law enforcement and have it not create fear on the part of African-American citizens in Jasper. It brings back terrible memories for lots and lots of people who live there.

“Jasper wants to think they have come a long way from 1998 to today,” Stetson added. “I think city officials have told the world, ‘We’ve made leaps and bounds,’ and then you see this and you say to yourself, ‘Really how far have we come?’”

Stetson and her firm are also representing Rodney Pearson, Jasper’s first black police chief, who was fired last year by the City Council. Pearson is suing Jasper in federal court, alleging he was terminated because of his race. His firing, according to black community leaders, left racial tension in the town of about 8,000 residents at “an all-time high.”

But Jasper’s mayor, Mike Lout, who is white, told Hatewatch that race relations in Jasper, which he said is almost equally divided between black and white, are not much different than anywhere else.

“Jasper was one of the first towns around here to integrate the schools,” Lout said. “It was one of the first towns around here to have a black mayor and a black president of the school board.

“I remember when people said the town was so divided, when James Byrd got killed,” the mayor continued. “I don’t think it was all that divided. Everybody I knew thought how horrible it was.”

Lout said that when the City Council watched the video of the two officers throwing Diggles to the floor, “everybody was disgusted.”

He said memories of the Byrd case had nothing to do with the decision to fire the officers, a decision, he said, “I think everybody is pretty happy about.”

“I wouldn’t give a damn if everybody involved was all black or all white,” the mayor said. “Mistreating people is mistreating people.”

Lout said police took Diggles into custody at her home on May 5, a Sunday morning, for failing to pay a $320 fine for an earlier disorderly conduct offense. He said she was taken to the town lockup, where she was allowed to make a telephone call in an attempt to raise the money for the fine.

During the video of the incident, one of the officers is seen suddenly hanging up the phone as Diggles is using it. She looks disgusted and walks away, apparently saying something to the officer. There’s no audio on the video.

Lout said she had been on the phone for 48 minutes when the officer disconnected the call, telling her he had to get back out on the street.

Diggles and the officer seem to be exchanging angry words as the officer backs her up against a wall. They begin wrestling when a second officer appears, and the officers together slam Diggles, head first, into a countertop. Then one of officers grabs Diggles by the hair and she is yanked to the floor.

They handcuff her and then one of the officers grabs by her the ankle and attempts to drag her across the floor toward a cell. But her shoe comes off and the officer stumbles and falls. He regains his feet and the two officers drag her into a cell.

Lout said that from watching the video, it was clear that harsh words were exchanged on both sides before the incident turned violent.

“She got mad, they got mad,” he said. “But they’re held to a higher standard. They’re the police.”

Stetson, Diggles’ lawyer, said Diggles is missing a “huge chunk of her hair on top of her head.”

When she was slammed into the countertop, Stetson said, Diggles’ braces were dislodged and she broke a tooth.

“The tooth shattered,” Stetson said. “She’s going to the dentist today to have it removed.”

  • aadila

    Evil White Bigot regarding the Kaufman murder case, the signs of aryan gang involvement even led a federal prosecutor to quit the case due to security fears. So I am going to go out on a limb here and say something I don’t think I ever have on this blog. Just shut up.

  • Aron

    Yes Evil White Bigot, James Byrd was certainly at fault for his own death. I couldn’t agree more.


  • New Media Manager

    This is Scott, New Media Manager here at SPLC. I apologize for the stoppage in approving comments over the last few days. We’re back on track and will be moderating more frequently.!

  • http://SPLC MO Show Me

    Since the 1960’s race relations in the U.S. have gotten better, but only through the full power of the federal government. Left up to the states nothing would have changed. Since the Obama election I don’t think I have heard the “N” word used so much since I was a child. Although there are some enlightened persons out there who would accept racial equality regardless of federal intervention, I think that most people still regard African-Americans as less than human. Further, I don’t think that kind of thinking is confined to the South. Freedom for all is merely an illusion cultivated by the powers that be.

  • Erika

    aadila, probably with a promotion and a medal for “bravery” and “valor” :(

    of course, its not just Texas – but its definitely a problmen there due to the [United States Court of Appeal for the] Fifth Circuit being an enthusiastic proponent of the “he just needed killing” doctrine – they apply it with equal vigor in both police brutality cases and death penalty cases. And really, the police here should actually be given credit for showing restraint in just beating, dragging, and injuring the young woman rather than killing her.

    The Fourth Circuit is also a fan of that doctrine, although less so than the Fifth Circuit (there are actually a couple cases so egregious where the Fourth Circuit has found the police liable for killing people)

    Of course, we should remember that Texas is the leading proponent of corporal punishment of children. The Fifth Circuit has even ruled in a case out of Texas (of course) that even if the parents affirmatively tell the school not to paddle their child in writing and the school goes ahead and paddles the child anyway that the parents cannot sue for injuries to the child. Apparently in Texas, parental rights really aren’t that important after all and are definitely secondary to the rights of authority figures to wantonly cause pain to weaker people. When the idea of “might makes right” and that authority figures have the right to cause others pain is planted in young children’s minds, it is no surprise that the police there grow up to beat, abuse, and kill people.

  • Evil White Bigot

    Speaking of Texas, did authorities ever catch those neo-nazi white supremacist aryan brotherhood prison gang members the $plc so confidently implicated as the perpetrators behind the murders in Kaufman? I believe i have yet to see any kind of follow-up story published on this particular blog. I am still anxiously awaiting the arrest of the evil White supremacists responsible for the heinous murders! LOL!!!!!!

  • Evil White Bigot

    Seems to me that blacks in jasper seldom miss an opportunity to blame whitey and his racist ways for their own personal shortcomings.

  • Steve

    If it was a white, or black, or brown, or red, or yellow cop slamming a white male’s head (happens all the time-watch Youtube), nobody would give a crap about the victims rights. Typical SPLC phony bleeding heart concern.

  • Charles Dan Austin

    As a native of Angelina County my heart goes out to Jasper. I sincerely hope working together will help. Of course the greatest man to come out of Angelina County is and was Arthur Temple Sr.. of Diboll who integrated the Diboll schools shortly after the Supreme Court decision regarding segregated schools in 1957. He was regarded with love then as a miracle man and school boards from around the state used to attend Diboll schools to see how to get the job done integrating. My great uncle and aunt Ben and Mattie Lindsay lived in Jasper for over sixty years Democrats and friends of President Johnson. My mothers cousins the Dues owned one of the local grocery stores Its a nice neighborly town like Mayberry and hate has no place there or anywhere. Thanks SPLC!

  • http://Splc Tom Frazee

    I propose we all sign a petition titled: “Mayors Against Police Kicking the Shit out of Poor People!”.

  • Shmoo Snook

    Texas. *sigh* Austin, now — Austin is in America, but the rest of Texas is in Texas.

  • http://TBA Beverly Kurtin, Ph.D.

    Yes, it is a POLICE issue and she was “disrespecting their auth’rity.” Ask Cartman about it.

    I’ve lived in Texas for the majority of my adult life and have seen some very major changes in the interracial relationships. Intelligent people of good will get along with each other, visit each other’s homes, eat together, etc.

    Then there are some knuckle-draggers who just will never let go of their idiotic hate, be it of any race, color, or background.

    I’ve never visited Jasper, but I have no reason to disbelieve that they don’t respect each other. There are pockets of hate groups, the SPLC can tell you more, but it is the older folks who cause problems. Of course, some of ’em pass along their ignorance to their children, be they legitimate or not.

    My parents brought me up to respect ALL people and served as a great example to me. It was unremarkable when we had black friends visit our home or vice-versa. It simply was not a big deal.

    To tell the truth the way I see it, Texas is no better or worse than any other state when it comes to discrimination among people. I’ve seen it get better year by year and I believe that Jasper is getting a kick to the head that is not deserved.

  • hunglikejesus

    It’s? been my observation that most “small” men seek jobs that give them power over power over people and a uniform. It was that way when I was in the Air Force and it’s certainly that way with the police. These are the same one that got cut from the team, didn’t have a date to the prom, jacked off all day and whose mother emasculated them (serial killers). The only thing that can be done with them is to just throw them all off very high buildings.

  • aadila


    In Texas, a cop who shoots an unarmed man in the back can claim he feared for his life and go back to work after two weeks administrative leave.


  • Erika

    aadila, its likely to occur as often as a police department immediately firing officers for committing police brutality :)

    seriously, i don’t really see this as a racial incident or a racial issue – i see it as a police issue, While its quite possible that these police were racist or mysognisitc, its much more likely that they were simply jerks who were likely to explode in violence. And yes, its extremely rare for a police force to take quick steps in firing the officers – let’s just hope that it sticks through the employee grievance process.

  • aadila

    Georgia do you know how many lawsuits against police brutality are successful in Texas?

    Take a wild guess.

  • Georgia Citizen

    You would think the the people in Jasper, TX would have learned a thing or tow in the murder of James Byrd in 1998. Apearently that isn’t the case, but I do praise the may of this town for firing those police office in the abuse and mistreatment of this poor unfortunatel soul. Police brutality has no place in a civilized world. The family of ths woman should sue the Jasper Police Department for her pain and suffering.

  • Reynardine

    The town at least has the good grace to be embarrassed about it. You compare that to those vile people in Tennessee, for example.

    There has been an increase in violence among law enforcement, and I think it has gone with an increased “othering” of too many over whom they exercise their authority: non-whites, non-Christian, non-native born, non-rich. When those who have served in our Twenty-First Century wars come home and serve in the ranks of the police, they may bring with them a deadly combination of PTSD and an Abu Ghraib mindset. You hear all too often of elderly people and little kids being tazed, beaten, and even killed because some law officer “perceived a threat”, and too many jurisdictions cover it up. At least this one didn’t.

  • Sam Molloy

    In the documentary “Jasper” the townspeople went on and on about how they aren’t like that. Apparently yes, some of them are like that.

  • concernedcitizen

    Officers acting like this? Two men and one woman, really?

    This is disgraceful and there are areas where race relations are far better than in certain parts of Texas. I think we are aware that there are hot spots in America some very notable ones in Texas.

    Well firing these men was the right thing to do in order to send a message out there that racism will not be tolerated, no tolerance is the best policy.

    I hope that a good law firm picks this case up.